Release Date: May 5, 2017
Record label: BMG Rights Management
For more than four decades Blondie have been one of pop's brightest sensations. “Is it doom or destiny?", Debbie Harry questions on 'Doom Or Destiny', the opening track to new album 'Pollinator'. With their eleventh record the New York outfit demonstrate that this standing is something they’ve always been meant for. There’s pop hooks a plenty, chorus refrains you’ll be humming for days, and guitar riffs made for the air guitar solo of your wildest dreams.
I t doesn't bode well when formerly prolific bands reach for outside songwriters, but a cast stretching from Johnny Marr to Sia to Charli XCX and the Strokes' Nick Valensi have helped recreate Blondie's classic late-1970s band sound, albeit with a modern sheen. Clem Burke's trademark machine-gun drumming propels songs with teasingly familiar big hooks and earworm choruses. Four writers - including TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek - collaborate on Fun's Chic-style disco-funk.
Blondie have always done "influential" exceptionally well. Though Debbie Harry reputedly baulks at being branded an "icon", superstars from Madonna to Lady Gaga will be forever in her debt, while her band's ageless New York cool is all too easy to detect in the DNA of younger generational firebrands ranging from The Strokes to Yeah Yeah Yeahs and LCD Soundsystem. Actually, while we're on the subject, go ahead and name any contemporary contenders tilting at rock'n'roll glory: I'll give you good odds they've absorbed every note and nuance of Parallel Lines.
For their first album in three years, Blondie engaged in some crowd-sourcing from a very elite crowd, soliciting writing contributions from Johnny Marr, Sia, Charli XCX, and Dave Sitek. Each wrote (or co-wrote) songs that blatantly mimic the kind of vintage Blondie tracks that would have made them fans in the first place. That easily could have resulted in a run of body-snatched versions of Blondie classics but, surprisingly, these guests do their host proud.
Blondie has always been Debbie Harry's vehicle. It's her allure and DIY style that drove the band's disco rock recklessness to the top of the charts. But the other original band members - writer and guitarist Chris Stein and drummer Clem Burke - that have long provided the support system to glamorize her romantic yearnings. Pollinator their 11th album, is fun, imaginative and quintessentially Blondie - it's punk's "good old days" retooled for a wretched century.
And such is Deborah Harry and co. 's lasting appeal, it's even harder to grasp that they were often scorned by their contemporaries for a perceived lack of intellectualism and sophistication, especially after their third LP Parallel Lines - a perfect storm of disco and punk - turned them from outsider act to mainstream success story. Fitting then that decades on from art-punk's heyday, it's Blondie , not Smith, Verlaine or any other CBGB's stalwart, who are continuing to enthral with their lively fusion of dance and rock.
Older fans of the "classic" Blondie lineup circa late ’70s were likely excited when the band regrouped in 1999 after over 15 years apart for the respectable No Exit, a solid if somewhat uninspired return to form. But that initial enthusiasm probably waned as further releases in 2004, 2011 and 2014 found the group, eventually whittled back to three core members, gradually embracing a chilly EDM aesthetic that tamped down much of the frisky soul and nearly all the rocking elements that made Blondie's finest music such a genre-breaking revelation. By 2014's unnecessary re-recording of their hits (virtually never a good idea) combined with a second disc of new, slick computer-generated beat-heavy music, whatever organic creativity that was still pulsing in Blondie's heart seemed to be sucked dry.
Blondie worked with fans from throughout the musical spectrum on their latest album: Sia, Nick Valensi of the Strokes, U.K. pop-punk diva Charli XCX, avant-R&B star Blood Orange and more. Each puts their own reverent spin on the band's vintage neon Nu Yawk garage rock, as 71-year-old Debbie Harry has a catty good time all over the place. On the blazing "My Monster," written by Smiths guitar legend Johnny Marr, she drops the bored bon mot "human beings are stupid things," like a Dorothy Parker of the Bowery.
For decades, Blondie's weapon has been their talent for synthesis. While tracks like "One Way or Another" and "Hanging on the Telephone" front-loaded themselves with spiky riffs and Debbie Harry's petulant yet wondrous vocals, other entrants in the New York New Wavers' catalog got their power--and staying power--from places removed from what was then considered "rock. " "Heart of Glass" added disco's bounce to the band's guitar crunch; their cover of the rocksteady classic "The Tide is High" made plain the Caribbean influences that were infiltrating rock in the late '70s and early '80s; "Dreaming" was an urban-cowboy sigh reclining on a cloud of glitter; and Harry's downtown-blasé, Fab 5 Freddy-saluting bridge on "Rapture" led to it becoming the first rap video to appear on the white-breadiest, earliest iteration of MTV.
Blondie's intentions were clear when they released "Fun" and "Long Time" earlier this year. The two singles for their 11th studio album, Pollinator, make the case that zero time has lapsed since the band’s 1978 masterpiece, Parallel Lines. Of course, several decades have come and gone since Blondie emerged as part of New York's punk rock scene in the mid-1970s.
Two decades into their second coming, Blondie have a patchy latterday track record. Their last album, Ghosts Of Download, was a disjointed, guest-heavy mishmash clumsily released on the back of a greatest hits collection. Pollinator also features multiple guest players and songwriters including Johnny Marr, Joan Jett, Laurie Anderson and Dave Sitek.
Rumours of an uptick in the Blondie work ethic might yet turn out to have been exaggerated. It's now a full two decades since they reformed after a 15-year break, and Pollinator is their third album in six years - a marked improvement on a return of just two records between 1997 and 2011. That said, though, this follow-up to 2014's Ghosts of Download is a broadly collaborative affair, with the group's songwriting core of Debbie Harry and Chris Stein having penned just two of the eleven tracks here.
F orty years into their career and Blondie are still prepared to push boundaries. Their 11th studio album comprises a series of collaborations with high-profile guests, the results adding a 21st-century electronic sheen to the glossy 70s new wave with which they made their name. Dev Hynes drops shards of Heart of Glass into Long Time; recent single Fun, with TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek at the helm, sounds uncannily like Scissor Sisters at their most disco; Johnny Marr co-writes and adds guitar to My Monster, and Charli XCX and Sia also feature elsewhere.
Since reuniting in 1999, Blondie have had some trouble figuring out where they fit into the current musical landscape. Are they the nostalgic elders of the New York punk, new wave and disco scenes? Are they trailblazers shaping new sounds with their own inimitable sense of style or conforming to current trends? Or as they did on their baffling last greatest-hits/new album hybrid, are they just re-recording old songs? On Pollinator, Blondie tap into a trick used by other icons like Marianne Faithfull, the Monkees and Yoko Ono: they've handed over the songwriting reins to artists of today. The album features songs written by Charli XCX, Sia, Dave Sitek (of TV on the Radio), Dev Hynes, Johnny Marr and more, plus guest performances by Joan Jett and Nick Valensi of the Strokes and artwork by Shepard Fairey.
As the third new Blondie album of the 2010s, Pollinator falls into something of a familiar pattern. Ever since 2011's Panic of Girls, the revived Blondie have been determined to fit within the confines of contemporary music, riding the remnants of the new wave revival and emphasizing electronics. Unlike Ghosts of Download, which was buried as a second disc with a collection of re-recordings of greatest hits in 2014, Pollinator pushes splashy guest stars.
No one can accuse Blondie of not trying its hardest to create an album that fits into some aspects of the current musical atmosphere. The iconic group enlists a glittering list of Jumbotron names in songwriting to help shape Pollinator, its 11th studio album in over 40 disjointed years of existence. Among these are Sia, Charli XCX, Johnny Marr, Blood Orange's Dev Hynes, TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek, and The Strokes' Nick Valensi, not to mention producer du jour, John Congleton (St.